WE CANNOT only consider the environmental impact of the food that we produce in the UK but must also apply the same standards to the food we import.

This message was delivered by Henry Dimbleby, the British businessman and cookery writer who is now heading up Defra’s national food strategy, during his opening speech at the Oxford Farming Conference.

“We need to start framing the carbon problem as one of both production and consumption,” he stressed. “The current production-only climate change targets make no sense. What is the point of doing the enormous amount of work required to create a net-zero farming economy here, if we then just import that carbon from other countries?

“We cannot only consider the externalities of food we produce here but must apply the same standards to food imports. It would be wrong to create a gold-standard for farming in this country and then incentivise those harms overseas in the form of lower standard food imports. It is a red line that as a society we must defend vigorously.”

Mr Dimbleby discussed his vision of the national food strategy which is due to publish its interim report this spring and shared his hopes to build a robust food system which provides good affordable food to everyone whilst restoring the environment and supporting rural and urban jobs. He summed it up by stating that it will be a system that ‘we would be proud to leave our children’.

He then pointed out that the government cannot provide all the answers to the changing global climate and that farmers will need to step up to be part of the solution: “Government cannot make that change alone, it will require dispersed leadership from across the system – from all of us.”

Mr Dimbleby urged farmers to recognise that in a low-carbon world, much more will be required from their land, not only for food production but for renewable energy and its ability to sequester carbon.

Throughout his speech he celebrated the role of farmers over the years in meeting increasing demands on global food production and urged that once more they must lead the way in the face of the next food system crisis.